How to Make Cross-Country More ‘Extreme’

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On Tuesday, the International Association of Athletics Federations revealed a press release on the way forward for cross-country. From the sound of it, issues are wanting up for a sport that has lengthy been overshadowed by the rankings juggernaut that’s skilled observe and area. I couldn’t be extra excited.

“The 2024 Olympic Games in Paris would be a fitting time to see the return of cross country to the Olympic program,” stated IAAF president Sebastian Coe. The assertion consists of no clarification as to why it might be becoming, however after all everybody is aware of that the final time cross-country noticed Olympic motion was in Paris in 1924.

There’s only one drawback. According to the IAAF, cross-country must develop into “edgier” and “more extreme” with a view to acquire a brand new viewers and entice a “new breed” of runner. The press launch doesn’t elaborate on how this is likely to be achieved, aside from mentioning that the course at subsequent 12 months’s World Championships in Denmark will embody (maintain on to your seat) the sloping grass roof of a museum.

Maybe I’ve develop into jaded after working at Outside for years, however the sloping grass roof thought doesn’t sound very excessive to me. It’s actually not the sort of shit Vin Diesel lives for. If the IAAF actually desires to carry extra adventurous sorts to the cross-country fold, they’ve obtained to do higher than that.

But how?

As is the case with any legacy product that needs to stay related with out shedding its soul, cross-country should discover a method to enchantment to a up to date viewers whereas staying true to its roots. Easier stated than finished. There have already been murmurings among the cognoscenti that cross-country competitions may devolve into de facto obstacle course races in an try to draw the Tough Mudder demographic. From my unbiased perspective, that doesn’t look like a good suggestion.

Rather than filching from an occasion that at all times sounded just like the world’s worst company retreat, cross-country’s greatest wager may really be to take inspiration from its personal wonderful previous. Retro operating style is already experiencing a revival of sorts, so half of the battle is already received.

Believe it or not, cross-country really was once extra excessive with out attempting to be. In truth, the rationale the game had its Olympic standing revoked after 1924 was as a result of too many athletes DNF-ed in that race. This was largely as a result of warmth on that July day—temperatures exceeded 100 levels—however the course was additionally not for softies. In his e-book, The Complete History of Cross-Country Running, Andrew Boyd Hutchinson notes that the terrain required athletes to navigate by means of “rough grass,” in addition to “heavy dust, thick weeds, and noxious fumes” from a close-by manufacturing unit. Hutchinson additionally quotes Times journalists Arthur Daley and John Kieran’s account of the race of their e-book The Story of the Olympic Games, whereby, “one runner entered the stadium gates in a daze, turned in the wrong direction and ran head-on into a concrete wall, splitting his scalp badly and falling to the ground covered with blood.” Now, that is leisure! These days, a lot cross-country racing takes place within the boring, secure environs of the nation membership. This wants to vary. As a common rule, edgy stuff hardly ever goes down on a golf course.

I can hear the complaints already. Were the IAAF really daring sufficient to carry again a much less manicured sort of race, weak-kneed coaches and athletes would moan concerning the danger of harm, or about how actual runners are abruptly being deprioritized in favor of barbarians who take pleasure in charging by means of the comb. Such whimpering would in all probability go away an athlete like Allie Ostrander—an actual runner if ever there was 1—unimpressed. The younger Alaskan is a collegiate All-American in cross-country and observe. Every July Fourth, nonetheless, she races Mount Marathon, an out-and-back 5K that basically entails operating up a 3,000-foot mountain and throwing your self off it.

If reverting again to a extra pure sort after all seems like a barely unimaginative method to give cross-country just a little extra oomph, maybe the principles of competitors ought to be tweaked. Here, too, innovation can borrow from custom. Modern cross-country advanced from a sport often called “hare and hounds,” which turned standard in 19th century England. The approach it labored was small group of schoolboys (the hares) would set out into the countryside and go away a path of shredded paper for a bigger group (the hounds) to observe. If the hares reached a predetermined location with out being caught, they received. 

Lovely. But a modernized model of the sport may make 1 essential adjustment: actual hounds! People love animals typically, and dogs in particular. If the variety of YouTube video views is a barometer of what counts as partaking leisure—and, imagine me, it is—including animals to the combo is maybe essentially the most surefire method to purchase that coveted new viewers. As for the outdated viewers, who amongst my fellow distance operating followers wouldn’t be intrigued by the prospect of seeing Galen Rupp chased throughout the heath by a crazed beagle?

Yes, there would nonetheless be some tiny logistical wrinkles to iron out. But so far as I’m involved, hare and hounds redux represents cross-country’s greatest shot at avoiding obsolescence and giving observe and area a run for its cash because the nation’s 11th hottest televised sport throughout an Olympic 12 months.

(Editor references)

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